Lessons Learned at Peruvian Karaoke

So, we went out to sing some Karaoke here in Lima the other day. Actually this is nothing new for us. My wife sings really well, and I…well let’s just say that I know the proper pronunciation of English words so most of the people in the Karaoke are more or less impressed because English songs sound more or less like they’re supposed to. Actually, I have to say that Peruvians are really good sports about this kind of thing. People come up to you and tell you how awesome you were when you KNOW that you were terrible…but that’s the whole point of Karaoke isn’t it? If you sing really really well, you really shouldn’t go out to Karaoke because Karaoke isn’t for people who sing well, Karaoke is for people who sing boarderline bad/all out bad so we can all sit together and get drunk and try to convince one another that we did kind of sound good (so we can all go and embarrass ourselves later by trying out for American Idol). People who actually do sing well ruin this illusion, and all us bad singers tend to sulk and stare angrilly at the good singers who, most of the time, never want to shut up.

But, there are a few other things to keep in mind when singing Karaoke. Because Peru is a Spanish speaking country, their song lists are primarily in Spanish. They always have a certain number of English songs (because Air Supply is big down here) but, let’s just call the English section the “afterthought” of the Peruvian Karaoke catalogue (although they’re is usually a Japanese section too if you can believe it). What this “afterthought” status means is that sometimes the songs listed don’t have the artists listed with them. This can be problematic (as you can probably guess).

The way this came up to bite me the other day was when I was looking at a list of songs by Bryan Adams and at the end of the list was “Run to You,” although it didn’t list Bryan Adams as the artist. However being the intrepid soul that I am (and drunker than a skunk) I signed up for “Run to You” and watched the little piece of paper float off into the dark land of infamy while carried in the indifferent waiter’s hand (you know, I bet those Karaoke waiters want to tear half those papers up, especially when they see some yokel like me signing up for a tune there’s no possibly way I’m going to be able to carry).

So, as a reference, the Bryan Adams version of “Run to You” goes like this:

And had they played that song I probably would have mangled it and sounded like crap, but at least it’s kind of a rocking song so the audience would have been semi-entertained/annoyed.

However, little did I know that Whitney Houston has a version of “Run to You” which sounds like this (and, unfortunately for me, this is the song they played):

Uh-huh…yeah right, like I’m going to be able to pull off ANY Whitney Houston song much less something that appeared on the Bodyguard track and which is one of those tunes constructed to be a showcase for Whitney’s vocal stylings and which has a bunch of parts where the only line listed is “whooo oooh oooh” (like I can sing “whooo oooh oooh”).

This leads me to my 6 hard and fast rules for Karaoke:

Number 1. Never sing anything by Whitney Houston. Whitney’s too good, anything you do will pale in comparison to her work so don’t even try it. Plus, her songs are all too well known so you won’t even have the potential escape of the fact that nobody knows what the song is supposed to sound like (with the possible exception of if you’re in Peru. My girlfriend had never heard “Run to You” by WH and she said I sounded like a professional singer…I guess when you live with a guy like me you’re forced to going to extremes to inject romance into your life, still it was good for the ego to hear, that’s why I married her).

Number 2. Never sing anything by Celine Dion. Most of the arguments that apply to Whitney houston apply also to Celine Dion. The second that darn song from “Titanic” appears, you KNOW it’s going to suck. Inevitably, the person who picked it is a giggly girl who instantly knows she’s in over her head and then just spends the whole time giggling into the microphone in an effort to sound cute and cover up how bad she is. Giggling is cute for 30 seconds, but for a woman to be able to sustain five and a half minutes of cute giggling, she’s got to be at least approaching the hottness level of my wife (brownie points) and since few women achieve that (man I’m racking them up today) they shouldn’t even try.

Number 3. Never sing the “Ball Room Blitz.” In case you don’t know the “Ball Room Blitz” click here:

Sure, this is a kind of a rockin’ song but that screamed falsetto chorus is annoying when the original singers do it and it becomes unbearable when some no-talent afficionado massacres it. Look, just don’t sing it. Anybody who sings this deserves to get kicked in the head, it’s obnoxious. In fact, any guy who owns a Karaoke bar who has this in their catalogue needs a stern talking to at the very least. In fact…just stay away from any kind of screamed falsetto song, they’re all bad, nobody wants to hear it and likely as not you’re going to chicken out and the audience will have to sit there and listen in annoyed silence.

Number 4. Sing the first chorus an octave lower than you think you can handle. I learned this one when I massacred “Eye of the Tiger” the other day by Survivor.

This song starts out easy enough and I thought I was doing fine, but then I got to that part where he goes “Eye of the tiger it’s the thrill of the fight…” and my voice just cracked into a million pieces. The “Rising up” part is as high as I can sing. When it came to the chorus, I had to shove the mic into my wife’s face and although she could hit the notes, the audience noticed the change. But this is a classic tune, you should be able to earn your Karaoke bar license unless you have this song available.

Number 5. Keep in mind that even the professional singers you constantly make fun of are actually super-humanly good. We learned this when we talked my friend Florian into singing “Ahora Quien” by Marc Anthony:

This one doesn’t actually sound like all that much, but try and actually sing the damn thing. That fricken’ Marc Anthony’s got the lungs of a marathon runner. There’s one part in the song where he sings “tu beso entrega tu alma tu alma esta en tu beso tu beso tu alma….” (or something like that…actually I just noticed that the version I’ve included here doesn’t have that “beso..alma” part, which is probably for the best) and he just keeps going and going and going to the point where if you, as an amateur, try to do it you might die of a heart attack or something.

Hell, even Bon Jovi is harder to sing that you would think. The only Bon Jovi song I can handle is “Wanted Dead or Alive” but even “Blaze of Glory” blazes out of my vocal range and robs me of all my glory:

6. When possible, pick songs that have easy lines in them like “na na na na” that you can’t possibly get wrong and which the crowd is destined to appreciate. A good call, “My Angel is the Centerfold” by J. Guiles Band:

Seriously, follow these rules. Karaoke is all about making an ass of yourself, but there’s the good side of that and then there’s the dark side and trust me, you don’t want to go to the darkside in an enterprise such as this.
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1 Comment

  1. Florian


    with "Dead or alive" we didn't do just fairly well … we ROCKED that goddamn' karaoke bar right away from the very beginning.

    And now, applying your karaoke rules, we have to do it again!!!


    P.S. Parallel to what you wrote about English songs sung by non-native speakers (Peruvians, but also …let's say e.g…. nasty drunk Germans – I'd like to know what Spanish speaking (and singing) people think about "gringos" seriously trying to sing Marc Anthhony… that must sound cruel…let's try it again…

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